Six Steps to Safe Homes

Why did houses collapse in this earthquake? Why did some not?

Build Change begins with forensic engineering studies after earthquakes to understand why buildings collapse and how to build them better. We have studied housing performance after 12 earthquakes in six developing countries. See post-disaster reconnaissance reports.

For any type of structure, safe construction depends on the three C’s: configuration, connections, and construction quality.

  1. Configuration: simple, square, symmetric building layouts are best.
  2. Connections: tie upper structure to foundation, roof to walls, and walls to the frame or confining elements, and tie them to each other.
  3. Construction quality: concrete blocks need good raw materials, and enough cement, and proper curing. Masons must completely fill the joints between blocks.

What types of houses do people want to build here now? With what materials, skills, and tools? How can we design them to resist multiple hazards?

It’s easier to make minor, low-, or no-cost improvements to existing ways of building than to introduce a completely new technology or reintroduce a traditional building method that has gone out of style. Build Change completes detailed housing sub-sector studies to design and build safe houses that are culturally appropriate, preferred by homeowners, low cost, locally sustainable, and disaster resistant.

We also develop building manuals that are specific to the practices in the developing countries where we work and distribute them to local builders and homeowners.

How can we disseminate this knowledge to masses of engineers and builders?

The best designs in the world will not save lives unless they are built properly, local engineers know how to design them, and local producers can produce enough quality building materials.

We train local masons, carpenters, engineers, and homeowners to use earthquake-resistant building techniques that are culturally accepted and easy to adopt with limited training and education. We target workers involved in construction before the disaster, who are committed to staying in it for the long term, and partner with local agencies to train such people. On-the-job training courses are led by Build Change’s local engineers and master masons or carpenters.

Build Change also works with local building materials suppliers to produce better building materials, and meanwhile increase profits.

Someone has to want the house to be earthquake-resistant.

Homeowners, government officials, and relief agencies are in a position to demand safe construction. But how can we convince a rural homeowner with limited resources to invest more in building a safe house? Make it affordable and easy to implement, and leverage the window of opportunity right after a disaster.

How can we make it easy for local government officials to enforce building standards, without letting corruption—and limits on their resources and time— get in the way? Create simple building codes and guidelines, training seminars, and inspection systems that work in areas with little infrastructure, budget, time, and personnel.

Build Change does not build houses for people and does not pay for materials and labor.

Usually funding comes as grants from governments or relief agencies. But if that funding is inadequate, Build Change partners with financial institutions so homeowners have the funding they need to build safely.

Our ultimate test will be an earthquake in an area where we have worked. Meanwhile, we build in intensive monitoring and evaluation.

Every day, using paper and digital cameras, field staff documents the recommendations made and the changes implemented on each house. This detailed tracking lets us tally the number of changes each homeowner makes and how well the house meets—or exceeds—standards.

For training programs, we give pre- and post-tests to measure how people’s skills have changed.